Good Cooking since 1995
Are Recipes on the Internet Original?
I'm totally amazed that so many people turn to the Internet to find recipes these days
I'm totally amazed that so many people turn to the Internet to find
recipes these days but then again, if you don' t have a cookbook
collection what else can you do? Hey, what are you doing---"I'm
searching for a recipe to cook for dinner", or "I'm searching for a
chocolate chip cookie recipe", is often heard in many households. Which
one will you choose and will it be a good one is the big question! Well,
providing you search on a reputable site such as Epicurious, Gourmet and
a few others, including goodcooking.com, you will more than likely be
happy with your selection. In your search you might wind up on Aunt
Tilly's page with hundreds of recipes that she's posted---but did you
know Aunt Tilly is a terrible cook?! In fact her children would rather
eat at a friend's house than at home, ouch! Yet you say to yourself,
"this recipe sounds good", not knowing what her kids think of it. And
you don't even know that she copied the recipe from Cousin Mary and then
tweaked a few ingredients to her liking and called it her own. Guess
what, Mary is a terrible cook too! It's on the Internet it must be good
you say. It's time to wake up!!!
Well so it goes, hundreds of recipes are floating around that represent this scenario and then they get copied, and reposted as "my recipe" without ever being tested, that is, actually made by the person to taste for themselves, before they go online. To top it off, others then copy Aunt Tilly's recipes and repost them as their own. This is perfectly legal because a recipe cannot be copyrighted. Julia Child once told me to consider it a form of flattery, someone thought your recipe was so good that they copied and perhaps tweaked it to look like their own and then to pass it on as their own--but that was before the Internet came about with hundreds of cooking sites vying for market share.
Cooking is a skill, it's about learning techniques and not all in the recipe itself. In classes I have taught, I've given twelve students the exact same recipe; ingredients, pots, pans and stoves and asked them to follow the recipe and instructions to the letter. At the same time I'm preparing the same dish too. Upon completion and the plating of the cooked food, guess what---there are thirteen different looking and thirteen different variations of flavor profiles of the dishes. Considering I'm the instructor and a good cook too, mine will be the standard; is this amazing or what? Shouldn't they all be the same? Yes, they should! I can point out to each student what made their dish different from mine and even from each other's; this is what learning to cook is all about. Skill you say, is "cooking" really a skill or is it about the recipe?
Let's pick a recipe to see what I mean when it comes to recipes you may find on the Internet. We'll compare the recipes and cooking instructions to see if we can tell if it is copied or original. Bear in mind that there are some recipes that need to be prepared and cooked because a ratio of ingredients is need to have it come out consistently. Boiled rice is a perfect example; 1 cup of rice and 2 cups liquid plus 1/2 tsp. salt brought to a boil, in a heavy bottom sauce pan and then the heat is reduced to just a simmer with the pot covered and all is cooked 20 minutes. Probably every package of white rice in the world uses this "standard recipe"!
I took 20 website addresses that I found by searching for Mac and Cheese and put their names on pieces of paper and literally put them in a pot, and then I drew 4 out to compare. I also took a recipe found on the back of a box of Mueller's elbow macaroni. I wanted to be a fair as possible with this sampling, not to accuse anyone of copying a recipe, rather point out what I found in comparing them side by side, and then comment on them from my chef perspective. Hopefully this will be helpful for you and will teach you a bit of what to look for in a good recipe.